I wanted to share my story with you–how I became Orthodox. I would also love to hear your stories. If you would like to write a guest post about how you became Orthodox or why you are Orthodox, please see the guidelines here.
I have not always been Eastern Orthodox. In fact, I grew up about as evangelical as they come. My father was a pastor in the Reformed Church in America. I was our church pianist from the time I was thirteen. Sunday School teacher. Vacation Bible school teacher. Bible camp counselor. Then, I went to college at an evangelical school. While there, I served with missionaries in Equatorial Guinea (in West Africa) for ten weeks one summer. I was basically the poster child for evangelicalism.
And, I am grateful for my background. I gained a very solid understanding of the Bible. I also was given firm moral principles that helped me through the temptations that beset high school and college students. I found a community of friends who supported, loved, and prayed for one another through good and bad times.
But, God led me down another path. He whispered to me along the way.
Looking back, I can see his guiding hand even in college. My freshman roommate was an Orthodox Christian from Bulgaria who placed icons all over our room and brought me to Liturgy with her a few times. I remember standing there looking at all of the icons, smelling the incense, hearing the chanting, and feeling an intense curiosity.
That curiosity led me to research and write papers on Orthodox icons and church architecture. The English major in me couldn’t get over the rich symbolism that imbued every aspect of the Church. But, my curiosity remained academic. I couldn’t imagine that it would impact my life in any way.
Then, I decided to go to a large, prominent evangelical seminary to study missiology in the hopes of entering the mission field. In one of my classes I sat near two Orthodox seminarians–one from the United States and one from Africa. The priest from Africa told me about the deep connections that the Orthodox Church has to the continent, as all of the first Christian churches in Africa were Orthodox. In most parts of Africa, the Orthodox Church is not considered a “foreign” religion, since it has been there since the beginning. The deacon from America told me how some of the first missionaries in my own continent were Russian Orthodox monks and priests who came to Alaska. I had not heard of this missional focus of the Orthodox Church and was intrigued.
While at seminary, I also met the man who would become my husband. He was studying theology and was taking a class on the Trinity. Many of his readings came from the early Church Fathers and introduced him to Orthodoxy. We began having discussions about the trinitarian focus of Eastern Orthodoxy and how it was lacking in much of evangelical Protestantism.
Then I began teaching on a reservation in New Mexico, and he began a master’s program in Oklahoma. His first Sunday in Oklahoma, he decided that he would check out the Orthodox Church in town. He has been in the Orthodox Church ever since.
We started dating soon after this, and he told me, “I am most likely becoming Eastern Orthodox. So, if we are going to have a future, I’ll need you to look into it.”
Now, if you know me at all, you know I am extremely stubborn! The stubborn, well-educated, twenty-first century woman in me thought and told him, “I will never change my religion because a man told me to.” Fortunately, he didn’t expect me to 🙂 He wanted me to read about the Church and attend with him when I visited. But, he understood that such a big decision would need to be made on my own.
Over the next few months I read Bishop Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Church, and we discussed it in our late night phone conversations. He also told me about his experiences at the Liturgy and in an inquirer’s class.
But, it was Holy Week that convinced me.
I visited him over Holy Week and fell in love. Not only with my now husband, but with the Church.
Never had I experienced services that were so filled with Scripture, so steeped in tradition, so meaningful in that rich symbolism I loved. I felt that I had never truly celebrated the Resurrection of Christ until that time. And I knew that I couldn’t go back.
That summer I lived with two families from the church. In their homes I saw Orthodoxy lived out in both big and small ways. Icons around the homes inviting us to pray and reminding us that we were a part of a bigger community. Family prayers in the evenings and at meals. A joy in all of the services of the Church. Acts of service to each other.
That fall my husband and I got engaged and became catechumens (those preparing to enter the Orthodox Church). That summer we were chrismated (joined the Church) and were married only a week later.
My story is a fairly simple one, I know. There was no dramatic conversion. No blinding light on the road to Damascus. No huge disillusionment with my life and faith that brought me to my knees.
Just small whispers from a faithful God who was drawing me closer and closer to Himself.
And that is what makes the story a holy one.
(Linked to Faith Filled Fridays.)